Find a Bird - BBA1
Breeding Bird Atlas 1 Species Accounts
March 31 to July 25
Number of Broods
one or two
Originally a native of the arid western United States and Mexico, where it is found in a wide variety of habitats, the House Finch is now a common but local resident of the state. The population increase and range extension since the early 1970s are probably unrivaled by any other avian species. This is another excellent example of an introduced species that found its niche, became established, then rapidly occupied suitable areas.
The origin of House Finches in the East stems from the release of captives in the 1940s by caged-bird dealers in New York City who were illegally selling House Finches. By the spring of 1941, a remnant group of the released birds became established at a nursery on nearby Long Island. The population grew very slowly and remained very localized for the ensuing decade, during which time a small number became established along the Connecticut coast.
The avenues of invasion into Massachusetts were along the coast and in the Connecticut River valley. The expansion gained momentum in the early 1970s and exploded by the end of the decade, when House Finches became more prevalent in the higher elevations of Berkshire and Worcester counties, where their major strongholds were in highly urbanized Pittsfield and Worcester. A second population explosion occurred in the early 1980s, and they are now much more widespread in interior areas than the accompanying map would indicate. They are most common in urban and heavily residential areas, particularly newly developed regions where ornamental plantings are the vogue. Although there is some migration from our area, it is not known to what extent our breeding population is migratory. The male sings from an exposed perch such as a treetop, telephone wire, or television aerial.
The song is a musical assemblage of varied rising and falling phrases that usually end with an upward slurred wheer note. Both sexes have a pleasing queet call note, given singly or in a series.
The nest is an untidy, bulky structure located in evergreens, especially ornamental spruces; on ivy-covered walls; in potted plants; and behind porch lights. Fifteen Massachusetts nests were located as follows: Blue Spruce (3 nests), Red Cedar (2 nests), honeysuckle (2 nests), porch eaves (2 nests), light fixtures (2 nests), potted plants (2 nests), ornaments on buildings (2 nests) (CNR, Meservey). Heights ranged from 4 to 15 feet, with an average of 8 feet (CNR). Nest building in Massachusetts has been reported from March 27 to July 12 (CNR). The female constructs the nest, and the male follows her closely. In some years, House Finches may be incubating eggs by the end of March, but usually this begins in mid-April. The clutch size ranges from two to six eggs, most often four or five. Clutch sizes for 10 state nests were three eggs (3 nests), four eggs (3 nests), five eggs (4 nests) (CNR). The incubation period varies from 12 to 16 days. Upon hatching, the young are brooded closely by the female for several days. Both parents feed the young by regurgitation. The fledging age is variable but averages two weeks or slightly more. Nestlings have been reported in Massachusetts from April 29 to August 4 and fledglings from May 20 to August 8 (CNR). Brood sizes for 10 state nests were two young (4 nests), three young (1 nest), four young (3 nests), five young (2 nests) (CNR). Some pairs may raise two broods, and the birds will renest readily if an attempt fails.
After breeding has ended, House Finches begin to gather in flocks, which can become quite sizable, occasionally numbering in the hundreds. Preferred areas are coastal dunes and large weedy fields inland. By fall, these large flocks have dispersed, and many young of the year will depart southward. Banding returns indicate that at least some birds will go as far as Maryland and Virginia. Numerous House Finches are present during winter at well-stocked bird feeders.
There has been some concern regarding the impact that the House Finch will have on the Purple Finch. While it is known that the House Finch is aggressive at bird feeders, it is not yet known whether the two species are serious competitors on the feeding shelf or nesting grounds.
Map Legend and Data Summary
Atlas 1 data collected from 1975-1979
Note: locally common along the coast, in residential areas of larger inland cities, and in the Connecticut River valley; uncommon elsewhere but increasing and spreading
Richard A. Forster